A huge step forward on the Elliott State Forest

May 18, 2017

Many breathed a sigh of relief on May 9th as the State Land Board voted to keep the Elliott State Forest open and accessible to all. While there’s still much work to be done to craft an inclusive solution that preserves this ecologically unique and historically special place that connects us to our past and future – the Land Board has taken a major step in the right direction by reversing their decision to sell the forest.

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(Photo by Josh Laughlin, Cascadia Wildlands)

Located in the Southern Oregon Coast Range, the Elliott State Forest contains within its bounty over 82,000 acres of vital wildlife habitat and some of Oregon’s last remaining coastal old-growth. Approximately half of the forest is over a century old, and provides a home to threatened and endangered species, vital habitat to elk, black bear, northern spotted owls, and marbled murrelets. Among the ancestral homelands for Tribal Nations who have hunted, fished and lived among the region for many generations before the forest came into state ownership, this place has deep meaning – connecting communities to a rich past and vital future. It also contains some of the strongest wild salmon and steelhead runs left on the Oregon Coast, with biologists estimating that 22% of all wild Oregon coastal coho salmon originate in the Elliott.

The State Land Board – consisting of Governor Kate Brown, Secretary of State Dennis Richardson and state Treasurer Tobias Read – had proposed the sale of the Elliott’s obligation to the state’s Common School Fund for $221 million. But the Land Board rejected that approach on May 9 and voted to keep the Elliott in state ownership. We are appreciate the work that Governor Brown and Treasurer Read did, but more work lies ahead to come up with a solution that engages all stakeholders equally in finding a solution for the Elliott.

The biggest unanswered question is whether the Oregon Legislature can come up with the $100 million in bonding proposed by Governor Brown to buy out the most sensitive areas of the forest from the Common School Fund obligation. In addition to using that money to end the state’s obligation to tear down forests to fund our schools, the Governor’s plan would establish a “Habitat Conservation Plan” for much of the rest of the land. This would allow some logging to occur while also protecting endangered and threatened species such as spotted owls and murrelets. Treasurer Read presented a complementary plan that would allow Oregon State University an option to buy the Elliott for the $121 million remaining if the $100 million in bonding can be found.

In addition to working diligently in the Legislature to try to assure that the securing adequate bonding money, the Oregon Chapter will also be working to pass Senate Bill 847, which would establish a Trust Land Transfer program. Such a program could help provide part of a solution to the Elliott by providing a mechanism by which money could be appropriated over time to purchase encumbered lands.Salmon Elliott

We are hopeful that all of these answers can be found and that we can indeed come up with a solution that results in a forest that is preserved for all of us – the hikers, hunters, anglers, bird watchers, and Oregon’s diverse communities. And importantly, the Sierra Club believes that the State must engage Tribes as sovereign equals in crafting this solution – recognizing and addressing the past seizure of their ancestral lands.

No one believes that any of this will be easy, but we now at least have reason to believe that we are headed in the right direction and for that we should all be thankful.

 


Jordan Cove LNG: The Empire Strikes Back

May 18, 2017

By Ted Gleichman

We have complex Jordan Cove news, so I will overstrain this Star Wars metaphor right from the get-go.

Proposed Jordan Cove Construction Site-OPB-EarthFix

View of the proposed Jordan Cove LNG export terminal site on Coos Bay.
Credit: Jes Burns, Oregon Public Broadcasting / EarthFix

We all remember the temporary victories of last year: the valiant Rebel fighters in Southern Oregon brought down the Empire’s local Death Star: the Jordan Cove liquefied natural gas (LNG) export terminal plan and the fracked-gas Pacific Connector pipeline necessary to serve it.

Technically, the Rebels persuaded a key Empire directorate, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), to go rogue briefly, for the first time ever on LNG, to deny federal permits to the Death Star (twice).

Then Darth Vader was anointed to take over the Empire, in a structural coup that displaced the assumed new Empress (even though she was supported by more of the Empire’s electorate). And FERC – never a true friend to the Resistance – emphasized that the Death Star owner (Veresen Inc., from the key Empire fossil fuels province of Canada) could re-apply for a new Death Star any time. And so they did, saying that Emperor Vader would save them….

Ok, enough Star Wars…. This 13-year battle now has moved into a blend of old and new terrain. We continue to work to build local and state support, while restructuring how to fight through the new FERC process and defeat state permits. Here are the highlights:

  • Veresen and Jordan Cove get strong support from the Trump Regime
  • Senators Wyden and Merkley try to play both sides with Trump and FERC
  • Merkley proposes a Full-Renewables Policy, with a Jordan Cove Loophole
  • Veresen agrees to a Sweetheart Merger with Pembina Pipeline Corp.
  • The Trump Regime announces new FERC Nominees – Wyden is key
  • Jordan Cove defeats a controversial local-control ordinance in Coos County
  • Coming next: Outreach to Wyden, Merkley, Governor Brown, and others

Veresen and Jordan Cove get strong support from the Trump Regime

Three days after President Trump’s inauguration, leaders of major construction unions met directly with him and top aides (including Steve Bannon) at the White House to promote Jordan Cove. They received a pledge of support: they were told that Jordan Cove would be the third energy infrastructure project on regime list for approval, immediately after the Keystone XL pipeline and the Dakota Access pipeline. Veresen CEO Donald Althoff was also incorporated into a major Trump corporate sales pitch and is claiming White House support.

Senior Trump aide Gary Cohn, director of the National Economic Council and a top advisor to the President on infrastructure plans, spoke recently to a key globalization think-tank, the Institute of International Economics. He stated bluntly, “We’re going to approve an LNG export terminal on the West Coast.”

Cohn, a former Goldman Sachs executive, made it clear that he was speaking specifically about Jordan Cove. He was definitive on Trump’s power to approve it, despite the fact that legally FERC is an independent agency.

Senators Wyden and Merkley try to play both sides with Trump and FERC

In response, Oregon Senators Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley issued a joint warning to the White House, saying in essence, ‘Don’t mess with FERC, but we still like Jordan Cove.’

This remarkable letter has, for me, a ‘split the baby’ feel, and is a perfect example of the conundrum facing all of us: A huge percentage of the Democratic Party base opposes Trump on every level. Another traditionally-Democratic set of constituencies, portions of Labor and other rural and blue-collar voters, were vital to Trump’s Electoral College victory.

Both senators have been supportive of Jordan Cove – sometimes strongly supportive – through many twists and turns as the facts on the ground have evolved and opposition has grown.   But now Jordan Cove is a first-tier Trump agenda item.

And in Oregon, the power of the Building Trades in Democratic Party politics and the desperate need for high-wage jobs in Southern Oregon have been the key factors in preventing formal Democratic elected-official opposition to a pipeline and terminal that are terrible for landowners and communities, the local ecology, and the planet.

Furthermore, FERC has been a truly brutal agency, forcing eminent domain abuses on landowners on pipeline routes across the country before the pipelines have even received other mandatory approvals. FERC denied Jordan Cove twice last year because it is one of the worst and weakest LNG export projects in the United States – not because there is anything admirable about FERC’s management of fossil fuels exploitation as we live in climate crisis.

Merkley proposes a Full-Renewables Economy, with a Jordan Cove Loophole

Simultaneously, Senator Merkley was the lead sponsor and prime mover for a massive new bill that (if eventually approved) would constitute the most ambitious federal reform plan yet for our long-term energy use: the 100 by ’50 Plan: 100% renewables in the U.S. by 2050. The 319-page bill, S. 987, is designed to reform every section of the U.S. energy economy. Although controversial in many ways, it is a serious effort…

….EXCEPT the section prohibiting most new fossil fuels infrastructure, Section 501, would not take effect until 2021, for reasons that are unclear. This apparent loophole moves this crucial component of “Keep It In the Ground” past the time when Jordan Cove now expects to receive federal and state approvals and begin construction.

Many in Southern Oregon fighting to stop Jordan Cove and the pipeline see Senator Merkley’s actions as hypocritical.

Veresen agrees to a Sweetheart Merger with Pembina Pipeline Corp.

At the same time, Veresen agreed to a sweetheart merger with another Canadian fossil fuels company, Pembina Pipeline Corp. The two companies expect Canadian regulatory approval this fall, and the merger would make Pembina one of the largest Canadian fossil fuels companies (although still only medium-sized by U.S. and global standards).

The Pembina CEO praised Jordan Cove as a key opportunity, apparently forgetting the 2015 defeat of their $500 million propane export terminal proposal in Portland.

The Trump Regime announces new FERC Nominees – Wyden is key

FERC has been unable to approve any major new project since early February, when the five-member commission fell to two members and lost the ability to constitute a quorum. Under strong pressure from the fossil fuels industry, the Trump regime announced two new nominees last week: both are reliable supporters of all oil and gas projects.

One of Trump’s nominees is the top energy aide to Senate Republican Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. The other has been the top state manager of the fracking boom from the Marcellus shale-gas region in Pennsylvania, where many of the worst fracking abuses have happened.

The new nominees must be approved by the Senate Energy & Natural Resources Committee before the full Senate can move them to re-start FERC. Senator Ron Wyden is a former chair of that committee, and will be one of the most important Senators reviewing theses nominees and the new role of FERC under Trump.   Stay tuned!

Jordan Cove defeats a controversial local-control ordinance in Coos County

On May 16, an ordinance initiated by petition by grass-roots activists in Coos County to promote sustainable energy and stop Jordan Cove was defeated 3-1. The proponents of this initiative were outspent by Jordan Cove more than 50-1.

The long-term impact of this valiant effort remains to be seen, although Jordan Cove proponents will claim it as definitive (wrongly, I believe). The measure, a “community rights” proposal developed in conjunction with the controversial Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund, is seen by most legal observers to be unconstitutional when applied solely on a local level, and court challenges to date have borne that out.

But the well-meaning fervor of these local activists to make change will, I believe, rebound and restore itself over time.

Coming next: Outreach to Wyden, Merkley, Governor Brown, and others.

So: what is to be done? Watch your email action alerts: we will be presenting you with opportunities to help educate our Senator and Governor Kate Brown on the fallacy of allowing the Jordan Cove Energy Project fracked-gas export terminal and the Pacific Connector Gas Pipeline to proceed forward.

This project will never be built.

Ted Gleichman is policy advisor for the Oregon Chapter Beyond Gas & Oil Team and a member of the National Strategy Team for Sierra Club’s Beyond Dirty Fuels Campaign.

 

 

 

 


We are thrilled to announce a new face!

May 17, 2017

image1Olivia (Libby) Bakonyi joins us as an intern from Melbourne University. She is currently in the last phase of her Masters of Environment degree which she began in March 2015. She has studied a range of subjects regarding food policy, food security, local food production methods, climate change, sustainable behavior change, sustainable development, renewable energy alternatives, environmental policy, and forest ecosystems.

She hopes to implement the skills and knowledge gained from her Masters degree into her internship placement with The Sierra Club. Libby is very excited to be part of the team and observe and learn how environmental organisations operate. She has previously completed an internship in Melbourne with The Wilderness Society, assisting with research on The Great Australian Bight campaign.

Libby and her 4 siblings lived in Italy, Holland, Norway, Scotland, and Houston before settling in Sydney, Australia in 2001. She has spent 5 years studying in Melbourne, where she enjoyed exploring its unique lifestyle and culture. She loves to walk, run, swim in the ocean, and explore all kinds of nature. She also loves to sew, take photographs, and go to music festivals. This will be Libby‘s first visit to Oregon so she is very excited to get out and explore its natural beauty and lifestyle in her free time.

Languages: English

Contact: libbybakonyi4@gmail.com


Legislative Update: Suction dredges, clean energy jobs, Elliott, and nukes!

May 15, 2017

We’ve now passed the midway point of the 2017 Oregon legislative session, and so far, it’s been something less than a walk in the park. As noted in previous updates, after several sessions with some real environmental progress (but also partisan divisiveness), we knew we would have a hard slog in making much progress in 2017. So things have gone pretty much as expected so far, and here are some updates on a few of the issues we’re working on.

This year the Oregon Chapter’s top legislative priority has been to pass the “Clean Energy Jobs bill” to put a price on greenhouse gas emissions and create a “cap and invest” program. After the Senate version of the concept (SB 557) met an untimely demise, the focus has shifted to the House version, HB 2135. That bill currently sits in the House Rules Committee, as the Senate Environment and Natural Resources Committee and the House Energy and Environment Committee hold periodic informational hearings to sort through the details of the proposal. It’s still possible we can move a bill in the 2017 session and you can help by contacting your legislators to tell them it’s time to act on greenhouse gas emissions in Oregon.

Another climate policy we were working on was the “Climate Test”, which was essentially a scaled-down version of a State Environmental Policy Act that would apply to fossil fuel infrastructure projects in Oregon. Like the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), it would require cross-agency communications to consider the impacts of proposed fossil fuel infrastructure projects and subject such proposals to an environmental impact statement (EIS) with full lifecycle accounting of the project’s greenhouse gas emissions. Unfortunately, though we had good hearings in both the Senate and House environment committees, the bills failed to make it out of committee. But we hope to be back with this idea next session!

Our other top priority continues to be passing legislation that can help to solve the ongoing conundrum with the Elliott State Forest. As described elsewhere in this month’s Oregon Update, we had a real victory on May 9, when the State Land Board voted to keep the Elliott in public ownership. Many details remain to be sorted out, including finding a pathway to $100 million in bonding and passing Senate Bill 847, the Trust Lands Transfer bill. But we are hopeful that a real solution can be found to preserve the Elliott for all of us.

One potential bright spot for this session might come with the bill to limit the impacts of suction dredge mining on our state’s waters. Senate Bill 3 passed the Senate on a bipartisan vote in April and it is scheduled to be voted on in the House any day now. While this bill has been compromised from its initial version, it will still have real benefits to salmon habitat in Oregon. We hope to see this legislation enacted into law very soon!

One bill that recently sprung to our attention is SB 990 – the “nuke in a box” bill. This bill would create a loophole for local government sponsored small modular reactor nuclear power plants that would sidestep Oregon’s 1980 voter-enacted moratorium on nuclear power plant construction until a permanent waste disposal site for high-level radioactive waste is established by the federal government. Unfortunately, this misguided bill escaped the attention of just about everyone in the Oregon environmental community and it passed the Senate without serious opposition. We are working now to make sure that it doesn’t have such an easy glide path in the House.

Another bill we’ve been working on is House Bill 2711, which would impose a 10-year moratorium on oil and gas fracking in Oregon. The bill passed out of the House in April, though unfortunately in a fairly partisan fashion, so its prospects in the Senate are slightly less bright. We are also working on a package of bills to address the critical issue of oil trains in our state. House Bill 2131 and Senate Bill 7 will help to improve safety and cleanup standards for the trains that are coming through Oregon. Both bills currently sit in the Rules committees of their respective chambers.

Senate Bill 1008 would have created more stringent standards for diesel emissions in Oregon. Unfortunately, that bill has been largely gutted and is no longer nearly as strong as it needs to be. We are supporting our allies’ efforts to make it stronger in the Senate Rules Committee. This legislation will also pave the way for Oregon to receive $68 million in Volkswagen settlement money to fund clean air work in our state. So we hope that we can get the bill back to the point where it will also get dirty diesel out of our air.

Finally, as many of you know, the transportation package is one of the major focuses for the Oregon Legislature this year. We are supporting our partners’ efforts to create a package that will invest in the infrastructure and services that most meet Oregonians’ needs: rural and urban transit, safe walking and biking options, clean air solutions, and public accountability. The outlines of the proposed transportation package have just been revealed and we are currently assessing how best to engage in that discussion.

So there have been both hazards and opportunities in the 2017 session, and we’re trying to make the best of the latter while avoiding the former to the extent we can. As always, our success depends largely on you, so keep calling, writing, and e-mailing your legislators and making a difference for Oregon!


Climate Recovery’s Essential Ingredients

May 12, 2017

If you’re concerned about climate change, you know that time is of the essence. To meet the Paris Agreement’s 1.5 Degree Celsius target (that Climate scientists recommend), the world must reduce GHG emissions to essentially zero by 2050[1]. To accomplish this we must immediately start to replace fossil fuel energy with renewable energy and energy efficiency.  However, at the national level and even at the state-level here in Oregon, it’s hard to get effective and sufficient carbon reduction legislation passed. That’s why work at the city level is becoming increasingly important.

The Sierra Club’s YouCAN Corvallis group, in partnership with Our Children Trust, is working to pass a Climate Recovery Ordinance to ensure implementation of Corvallis’s Climate Action Plan (CAP).  The City is set to propose an ordinance and a way to implement the CAP, but it’s missing essential ingredients, such as: up-to-date, science-based GHG reduction goals that the City can be held accountable to; and annually tracking our progress with ways to get back on track if we’re not. We need these ingredients so that the earth doesn’t reach the 6+ Degrees Celsius that’s predicted if President Trump’s pledge to expand fossil fuel extraction to the max is followed through with. We might not be able to influence Trump’s administration right away, but we can influence our local leaders right now.

YouCanCorvallis Team Members

Therefore we submitted to the City Council Climate Recovery Ordinance, and we’re asking people to add their name here, in support. By adding your name you’ll let the Corvallis City Council know you support adding all the essential ingredients needed to make a greenhouse reduction ordinance meaningful.  –Thank you from the YouCAN Corvallis Team!

[1] On the last day of the Paris Summit, a panel of leading climate scientists evaluated what would be necessary to achieve its targets.  Prof. Hans Joachim Schellnhuber of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research said that for any chance of reaching the 1.5C target the richest nations need to reach zero fossil fuel use by 2030.  Kim Nicholas, “Top Scientists weigh in on current draft of Paris climate agreement,” Road to Paris, December 11, 2015, http://roadtoparis.info/2015/12/11/top-scientists-weigh-in-on-current-draft-of-paris-climate-agreement/.


City of Portland Will Divest all Corporate Securities & Consider a Public Bank

April 13, 2017

By Ted Gleichman

In a local political shocker, the Portland City Council, deeply divided, has voted to divest all corporate securities from its investment portfolio.  A majority also said they will consider creating a public bank.  This surprise turn to a decade of arguments over corporate behavior and city investments came at the end of a four-hour public hearing April 5.Raging Grannies singing testimony to Portland City Council

 Raging Grannies sing their testimony to Portland City Council. Credit: Ted Gleichman

The city commissioners had wrestled for years with ruling on which companies should or should not be able to use cash owned by the people of Portland.  In the end, they voted 3-2, over strong opposition from new mayor Ted Wheeler, to eliminate all corporate securities from the city’s portfolio, which approaches some $2 billion.  Currently, $539 million of that is invested in corporate bonds and commercial paper.   These funds will be moved into non-corporate investments (generally, government bonds) as each specific corporate security reaches its maturity date or can be redeemed early for greater profit.

Long term, the most important piece of the dramatic meeting may turn out be an informal commitment by a majority of the commissioners to consider creating a city-owned bank, as the vehicle to manage the city’s portfolio.  If that happens, the City of Portland would join the State of North Dakota as owners of the only public banks in the U.S.

The April 5 decision came through the approval of the city’s 2017 investment policy, a document required annually under Oregon law.  In past years, up to 35% of city funds could be invested in top-quality corporate securities, with current specific exclusions on a “Do-Not-Buy List” as a result of earlier battles: Walmart, and the Carbon Underground 200 list of the largest publicly-owned fossil fuels companies globally, 100 coal and 100 oil and gas, all ranked by the size of their proven reserves – a “keep it in the ground” tool.

Fracking Rig-BLM-wind_river-small format

Fracking on public land in Wyoming.
Credit: Pinedale BLM Field Office, Wikimedia  Commons public domain

In 2013, as divestment battles from many perspectives heated up, the city council created the Temporary Socially Responsible Investing Committee (SRI) to advise them.  In 2014, they recreated it without the “Temporary” label.  The new SRI committee, in a remarkable document, recommended in September 2016 that as many as ten companies should be kept on or added to the Do-Not-Buy List.  The proposed additions were Wells Fargo, Caterpillar, Nestle, Amazon, and five other global banks.  After a difficult hearing in December, the then-council imposed a four-month moratorium on any new purchases and directed City Treasurer Jennifer Cooperman to come up with a new policy for 2017, taking everything into account.

The treasurer’s proposed policy essentially ignored the SRI recommendations, and about 150 activists showed up on April 5; 40 testified.  No one supported the treasurer’s recommendations; the corporations singled out most often in the testimony as “the worst of the worst” were Caterpillar and Wells Fargo.  Oregon Sierra Club added its voice to the process; Beyond Gas & Oil Team chair Gregory Monahan and I called for a commitment to SRI and transparency, based on the critical importance of environmental justice in Sierra Club.

Then Commissioner Dan Saltzman, the longest-serving member of the city council, startled the room by proposing an amendment prohibiting any new corporate investments.  Commissioner Saltzman said he was deeply frustrated about the amount of time these debates took away from other work every year, and wanted them over.

Treasurer Cooperman said that decision would cost the city from $3-$5 million a year in lost profits.  That was a key factor in opposition to the amendment by Mayor Wheeler and Commissioner Amanda Fritz.  The mayor also made a strong statement opposing divestment on principle, with a lot of detail about his six years as state treasurer.  Nonetheless, the Saltzman amendment passed with support from Commissioners Nick Fish and the newly-elected Chloe Eudaly.  The council then unanimously approved the revised policy, putting the city in compliance with the state requirement.

Most of the activists in the room were shocked; none of the leaders of the environmental and faith organizations present had predicted this.  One local divestment leader told me that she didn’t see it as a win, “because now we can’t call out the worst corporations by name.”  Others (including me) felt that a general policy against corporate investing sends a strong positive message on our city’s priorities.

Mayor Wheeler and Commissioners Fish and Eudaly all responded positively to testimony advocating for a public bank, and it’s clear that idea is going get more attention.  Commissioner Eudaly said she and her staff are preparing a report evaluating the options.

The new divestment policy is not a fire sale; corporate securities will leave the portfolio when the treasurer deems the time is right, not overnight.  On the current schedule, the final piece of Portland’s corporate portfolio is a $10 million Wells Fargo security that will pay the city 2.15% profit when it comes due in December 2019.

Dakota_Access_Pipe_Line,_Central_Iowa

Dakota Access Pipeline in Iowa. Credit: Carl Wycoff, Creative Commons 2.0

Currently, Wells Fargo – a key financier of the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines – is Portland’s top corporate issuer, with almost $78 million in holdings.

Ted Gleichman serves as policy advisor with the Chapter’s Beyond Gas & Oil Team


Working to Make Oregon’s Clean Energy Power Grid a Reality

April 12, 2017

Portland General Electric wants to build new fracked gas power plwind-and-solar_largeants which will lock us into decades of climate wrecking fossil fuel pollution.

PGE’s own analysis shows that our future energy needs can be reliably and affordably met with clean renewable energy which will create hundreds of new green energy jobs for our region.

There are 2 ways you can help us to create a landslide of comments to the Oregon Public Utility Commission

Download a comment card toolkit and gather comment cards from your neighbors and friends.

and

Send an email to your circle of contacts inviting them to use the Sierra Club’s website to submit an email comment.

 

Save the Date:

We just got news that the Oregon Public Utility Commission is going to hold a public hearing on PGE’s energy plan on the evening of Monday May 15th at the Portland Building.  The time is TBD, but very likely in the evening.  

They are holding this hearing specifically so that they can hear the public’s testimony. 

Please save the date and keep an eye out for details & ways that you can help make this a success!  

Keep the Frack Out: Clean Energy for Oregon! 

Thanks for all you do.

Contact Gregory Monahan at gregory.monahan@oregon.sierraclub.org if you need any help or have any questions